Conversation Peace

“Dora the Doormat”

| April 7, 2011


Recently, someone in the twitter world called me an “uber-complementarian.” They threw out the term “complementarian” derogatorily, like an ugly handful of mud – akin to calling someone a “racist,” “fascist,” “sexist,” or something scary like that. I had to smile, since I remember sitting around a table with John Piper and Wayne Grudem and others, wracking our brains to come up with an apt label to describe the historic Christian teaching on gender. Oh how quickly labels turn into stereotypes!

The Historic Christian Position on Gender

Since New Testament times, Christians believed that the Bible taught that God created male and female with complementary differences and roles. There was no word to describe this position, since no one had ever questioned it. But about 50 years ago, feminism changed all that. And by the mid-eighties, when Egalitarians and Evangelical Feminists eagerly jumped on the feminist ideological bandwagon, it was necessary to come up with a label to identify this traditional, orthodox, historic belief. That’s when we came up with the term “complementarian.” It simply means someone who believes that the Bible teaches that God created men and women with equal, yet distinct roles.  A complementarian is a person who believes that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus.

Straw Women

And that’s when I started to be called a gender traitor. And misrepresented by scary straw women. A straw woman is the female version of a straw man. A straw man argument is one that misrepresents a position, knocks that position down, and then concludes that the real position has been refuted. It’s a common, but faulty way to argue against an idea. Anyway, since the term “complementarian” now conjures up such scary stereotypes, I thought it would be fun to parade some of the most popular straw women out across the stage so they could take a bow—and hopefully bow out. Here they are:

(Strike up the scary organ music please!) . . .

Dora the Doormat

Dora the Doormat wears a “step on me please” sign around her neck. She’s a passive, quivering, opinion-less servant who can’t and won’t do anything without being told what to do. Dora can’t even get dressed in the morning without finding out which dress her husband wants her to wear. And she likes it when her husband acts like a domineering boor. Dora has absolutely no goal in life except to serve her man. She invites him to wipe his dirty, grimy, patriarchal feet all over her, so that she can happily clean up the mess. Dora’s sister, Co-dependent Clara, goes as far as to say that complementarians endorse abuse.

Since when does telling men to love their wives as Christ loved the Church support or promote women being docile doormats? Since when does the Bible’s view on unity, partnership, indivisibility, co-dominion and the dignity of male and female as complementary reflections of the image of God even remotely lend itself to this straw woman stereotype? Even the unbelieving, soon-to-be-married young lady working out with me at the gym exclaimed, “Wow, that’s incredible!” when I told her what God expects of Christian husbands. Complementarians do NOT invite, advocate, or endorse that men treat women in a sinful fashion! Complementarians instruct husbands to push for ever-increasing levels of holiness/Christ-likeness. And in my experience, complementarian men are the first to step in to protect women from harm. The claim that complementarity breeds doormats and encourages abuse is both false and reprehensible.

Dipstick Danielle

Dipstick Danielle doesn’t have a brain. She threw it in the trashcan when she embraced complementarity. Obviously, only women who have experienced the proverbial feminist “click” and had their consciousness so “raised” have the capacity to think. The rest of us are mindless minions of patriarchy–unenlightened to our repressed condition, party to our own servitude. Dipstick Danielle is close friends with Bobblehead Betty – the straw woman who doesn’t have any thoughts, ideas, or opinions of her own, but mutely nods “yes” to everything her husband says. Scary indeed!

Scripture doesn’t like the idea of “weak-willed” women, and neither do we. Complementarians encourage women to study the Word of God, THINK HARD about how to apply it to their lives, rely on the counsel of the Holy Spirit, seek the input of godly female mentors, examine cultural influences, carefully separate right from wrong, and make wise, informed decisions about how to behave. This is definitely not a brainless process. Complementarity does not support simplistic, mindless, acquiescence. It breeds strong women who can swim against the cultural tide and think for themselves. Thinking through how to apply God’s eternal principles requires brains, backbone, and courage. Complementarians don’t like wimpy women!

Kitchen-Trapped Kathy

Kathy lives in the kitchen. Oh, sometimes she’ll go into the laundry room too, but cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and other menial household chores pretty much defines her existence. This straw woman stays in the house, has no interests outside of the house, and never, ever has a career or employment outside of the house. Her over-riding, life-long aspiration is to bake cookies and keep her toilet sparkling clean. Her friends, Dipstick Dana and Bobble-head Betty, are eager to share tips with Kathy on cleaning techniques, home décor, and where to clip out the best grocery coupons.

Complementarians do believe that God gave women a unique responsibility to create and maintain a welcoming, nurturing home environment. But that doesn’t mean that women do all the housework, nor that homemaking is the sum total of all they ever do (The Proverbs 31 woman looked well to the ways of her household and also ran a business). Nor do Complementarians idolize the home and value it above that to which it points.

A woman who creates a home does on a personal level what the Church does for Christ on a corporate level; and also what Christ does in His Father’s House on an eternal, heavenly level—She creates an environment that’s welcoming, nourishing, healing, and conducive to life and growth.

Baby popping Bertha

Bertha aims to have twenty-six kids and counting. Popping out babies is her only goal and purpose in life. The more kids she has, the more spiritual she is, so the more the better! Bertha doesn’t use contraceptives or family planning . . . her plan is to have as many as she can, as quickly as she can. Bertha is best friends with Megan the Marriage-Monger. Megan’s only goal in life is to be married. She’s pushing 50, and has done absolutely nothing meaningful in her life except wait for “Mr. Right” to come along.

One of the great meanings of marriage is to bear and raise children for the glory of God. Complementarians welcome children as a wonderful and precious blessing from God. But they understand that bearing biological children is not the be-all and end-all of womanhood. While womanhood normally includes getting married and giving birth to biological children, this is not its ultimate aim. Woman’s ultimate aim is to be spiritually fruitful—to bear and raise spiritual kids. The unmarried Paul said that singleness was a precious gift from God, and that “each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.”(1 Corinthians 7:7) God gives us different gifts and callings. Marriage is not absolute and neither is conceiving children. It is not absolute that every woman will marry, nor is it absolute that every married woman will bear children, nor is it true that every woman ought to bear as many biological children as she possibly can. What IS absolute is that all women are called to be spiritually fruitful. The Lord wants all women—including single and childless women and women past child-bearing age—to spiritually and metaphorically have a “household” and be the “joyful mother of children.” (Psalm 113:9)

Repressed Rita

Poor Rita. She has gifts and nowhere to use them. Since her church won’t let her preach on Sunday mornings, her gifts of leadership and teaching are squelched. She is forever destined to sit on her hands on the back pew doing nothing. Silent. Frustrated. Repressed. She’s not into teaching Sunday School, or leading a woman’s Bible Study, or ministering to the homeless, or alleviating the pain of those in crisis, or reaching out to those in prison, or spiritually mothering anybody. She wants to do something really important—not something as menial as ministering to children and women. In Rita’s mind, the only person in the whole church who really gets to minister is the senior pastor—and if she can’t be THAT, then she won’t reach her full ministry potential. Poor Rita. Poor Church. Sniff. Pass the tissue box please.

Hmmm . . . Really? Last I checked, I have leadership and teaching gifts . . . and I am a woman . . . and I am exercising my gifts within a complementarian framework . . . AND there is far more to do for the Kingdom than I, and the myriads of other women I see exercising their gifts, have the time or energy to do. Complementarians believe in the priesthood of believers. Rita, and every other woman, has a responsibility to develop and exercise her spiritual gifts. Complementarians believe that the local church is to corporately reflect the dynamics of a healthy marriage relationship. The two sexes ought to work together in unity, mutuality, and cooperation to further the Kingdom of God under the loving, self-sacrificing guidance of male headship. There is no shortage of work to do. The gospel is too glorious. The needs are too great.

So there you have it! The worst of the illustrious straw woman parade!—There are more, but I’ve identified the ones who most commonly appear centerstage to give dire warnings about what will happen to women who embrace historic, orthodox, biblical views on gender.

Fighting on Two Fronts

A caveat: Standing for truth rarely affords us the luxury of fighting on only one front. Satan will warp truth by bending it to the left and the right. Are there, in fact, “uber-complimentarian” people who promote a biblical application that is narrow, rigid, and legalistic? Are there people who would like nothing better than to turn Dora into a doormat, Danielle into a dipstick, trap Kathy in the kitchen, insist that Bertha pop out more babies, and repress Rita? Yes, sadly there are. And I am the first in line to call them to account. But to say that these caricatures accurately represent the views of complementarians is like saying the Unabomber accurately represents the views of environmentalists. So please stop doing it!

If you want to talk ideas, let’s talk ideas. Let’s talk hermeneutics. Let’s talk presuppositions. Let’s talk biblical exegesis. Let’s talk principles of interpretation and application. But stop misrepresenting the complementarian position. Stop using syllogistic fallacies, non sequiturs, disambiguations and fallacies of propositional logic. But most of all, please stop parading out those silly straw women!

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Comments (58)

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  1. Jessica says:

    LOVE this. Hilarious, yet so so true! I’m a student at a major secular university, where militant and usually an atheistic form of feminism is the absolute norm. They definitely view complementarian women in the exact way that you’ve described, which is in and of itself a form of prejudice. It’s a bit ironic, as they stereotype and generalize Christian ladies when they are supposed to be the most “open-minded” and “socially conscious”.

    But the funny thing is that I’ve come to find that a lot of my feminist friends (apart from those who judge) are “impressed” by the fact that I don’t chase guys or sleep around. They know that I’m a Christian and go to church but I don’t really think that they expect me to be a Christ FOLLOWER, as in “practice what I preach”. All too often, they see these “models” of frustrated, abused, and repressed Christian women without actually having much interaction with women who are liberated in Christ! It’s actually a powerful thing to be able to be a model (albeit not a perfect one!) of what Biblical Femininity really truly looks like! I mean, I’m able to make intelligent decisions and have an incredibly rich education. I’m definitely not a doormat or a wallflower! The Lord has given me so much freedom as a Christian woman!

    But then again, it goes to show that one woman’s liberation can be another woman’s prison. Christianity is, indeed, slavery to a master. It is the best and most wonderful kind, however. And by being lights by our lives, we joyfully take up our yokes and work as unto the Lord. And without Christ, the grass will always appear to be greener on the other side. The thing that a lot of the feminists in my life notice is that I’m content, secure, stable. Now, I don’t have everything together but I am thankful that the Lord gives me balance and grounds my heart.

    I’m sorry that this is so long but I’ve been ruminating over these stereotypes for the past few months and you’ve just knocked it out of the park! Thanks so much for the biblically centered advice and articles! Keep ‘em coming!!!

  2. Barbara says:

    This is one of the most balanced presentations of this material I have read.

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    Right on, Mary. Name-calling is just a strategy used when you don’t actually want to engage in an actual debate. What a shame to resort to this method when there are so many women confused about their role in today’s day and age. Women in the church do have so much to offer, and women who want to have good family relationships as well as contribute to their community can really benefit from biblical mentoring and discipling. I believe more women have recognized they have been duped by feminism and this is why all the name-calling is growing stronger. There is joy in serving within our biblical roles, even under the persecution that may follow.

  4. Meg K says:

    Yes. It is sooooo often that the straw man is attacked. The real issues are rarely dealt with.

    I love the beautiful picture of an intelligent, strong, submissive (to family or husbands) woman and I wish the idea was more clearly understood by its opponents.

  5. Staci Eastin says:

    Well said. And while the post would have still been great without the pictures, they added a certain je ne sais quoi. :)

  6. Melanie says:

    This is fantastic!!!! Sadly, these “straw women” haven’t been built by those opposing complimentarianism, they have been constructed by those who want to take good, solid biblical principles and interpret for us how they ought to “look” or “function”. That’s one reason I quit reading most blogs – I’ve seen all these straw women polished and presented as the standard and have buckled under the weight of each as I failed to measure up!

    • sarah says:

      I had a similar thought- that it was ironic that as i read through the descriptions of each of these straw women, i thought about the pressure i have felt to try to embody certain aspects of each description. Especially kitchen trapped Kathy…I think too often i put the pressure on myself to perform as Kitchen-trapped Kathy in the home as well as Super Sunday School Soccer-mom Sally outside the home and muddle that up in my mind with true biblical womanhood when I “fail.” Yes, I want to be a godly submissive wife, and a dedicated mom diligently shepherding the hearts of my children…but I want to do this joyfully in submission to God’s word, not in submission to an extra-biblical caricature.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful article. This is my kind of complementarianism. Unfortunately, too many Christian complementarians do look just like the caricatures you presented. I don’t think conservative evangelical women are being misrepresented as much as this is really what the majority of them look like. At least it has been so in my experience. Perhaps it is time for the complementarian movement to seriously examine itself.

  8. Rod Phillips says:

    Thank you for the fun yet serious presentation of the “straw Women” often hurled like mud in our direction. As a pastor I have had to dodge a few mud pies on occasion, mainly from a few Repressed Rita’s I have encountered. I’ll bookmark this as it will come in handy…



  9. Pat Pope says:

    I have a question and I mean it sincerely. I noticed that you are a professor. In the complementarian view, is teaching men outside of the church okay as long as the woman does not have authority over men in the church (I noticed that you’re in Women’s Studies)? Is it believed that the scriptures re: elders and women teaching are related specifically to the church and not to other areas of life? Is a woman politician okay, but not a woman pastor?

  10. Ivory says:

    Well written and helpful.
    I am in the complementarian camp although I’m unmarried and don’t know if God has that in my future.
    I think I’ve read and studied everything Piper/Grudem have written and agree with their Biblical presentation of equal but distinct roles.

    However, there seems to be a growing trend in the church of women who fit these ‘straw-women’ positions that you characterize.
    Not only do they adopt a sort of OT Patriarchal system for themselves and their families but they hold it up as the only true and godly way to live and look down their noses at anyone who doesn’t fit their preferred lifestyle.

    This is creating huge problems in churches and in families and causing much division in the body of Christ.

    They call themselves ‘complementarian’ but they are not. They are promoting a lifestyle that is contrary to the Gospel.

  11. LLM says:

    I base my theology on this issue on Genesis 1 and 2 (pre-fall) and on Jesus Christ’s treatment of women. Therefore I am egalitarian.

    • Mary Kassian says:

      LLM, I encourage you to get the True Woman 101 Bible Study when it’s published later this year. It deals extensively with Genesis 1 and 2 and shows how complementarity roles are part of God’s divine design.

  12. Mark Thomas says:

    This was fantastic! I go to a church that endorses and teaches the complimentarian view of manhood/womanhood and have had numerous encounters with friends who use some of these EXACT straw women to invalidate (in their eyes) the position. What’s more, a friend of mine and I run a Christian blog and posted about complimentarianism (see it here: and we were faced with rather horrid opposition from several girls who hold to a very militant form of feminism. They posited that the position essentially equates to a misogynistic totalitarian regime where men are despots and women serve us as slaves.

    It was refreshing to see a humorous and informative post like this after being under attack for so long. Good to know that there are still women in the world who see that differing roles for men and women ordained by God does not equal differing equality :) Thanks!

  13. Deb says:

    Hi Mary! I agree that Complimentarianism as you, Piper and Grudem teach it doesn’t at all equate to any of these caricatures. However, there are churches out there that do practice forms of complimentarianism that do encourage these types of women. Or perhaps if not practiced in these forms overtly, they don’t ‘preclude’ them from developing.

    Just as one for instance, in an emotionally abusive marriage, there are at least two churches that I’ve been in that advise the woman that she must submit to her husband even before they ever move on to dealing with the husband’s behavior. I have encountered marriage counseling framework that was built around the idea that the way to win the husband over rests upon the wife’s obedience and submission, yet never does church discipline toward the husband ever enter into the picture. I think you would agree that this unbiblical and damaging.

    A guarded defense of complimentarianism over against legitimate potential abuses will lead to just this sort of twisting of Biblical teaching against women. I do know that you have never presented it this way, but unfortunately, it is practiced in these types of unbiblical ways in too many churches.

  14. Laura Martin says:

    “So there you have it! The worst of the illustrious straw woman parade!—There are more, but I’ve identified the ones who most commonly appear centerstage to give dire warnings about what will happen to women who embrace historic, orthodox, biblical views on gender.”

    So…if someone does not have your view, then they are non-historic, non-orthodox, and non-biblical? That is the very clear implication! That is not very gracious or kind to the other side. Many respected, educated, solid, orthodox, biblical evangelicals are egalitarian. Such as: Alan Johnson, Glen Scorgie, John Stackhouse, Gilbert Bilezikian, Stanley Gundry, Walter Kaiser, Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Bill and Lynne Hybels, John and Nancy Ortberg, Ronald Sider, and many more. Although I can not speak for another, I have read books and articles by these individuals. These people have a high view of Scripture, and their egalitarian views are based solidly on the Bible.

    I have a major pet peeve when those on EITHER side of an issue insinuate that those with the opposing view must be…non-biblical or uneducated or whatever. Equally intelligent and biblical people come to opposite conclusions on this issue. Clearly more charity is needed on both sides.

    • Mary Kassian says:

      The “new” view on the block is egalitarianism. I was simply stating a historical fact.

      • Laura Martin says:

        Okay. But…many egalitarians get their views from the Trinity, Genesis 1 and 2, and the life of Christ in the Gospels. Seems hard to get more old or historic than taking it back to the eternal Trinity, creation, and Christ’s time on earth. Perhaps man has corrupted the original intentions of our great Triune Creator God.

        • Mary Kassian says:

          Starting with the apostle Paul, I suppose…?

          • Laura Martin says:

            I have no problem with the apostle Paul. Neither do the other biblical egalitarians I know. Paul wrote during a time of drastic change and upheaval – the move from the Old Covenant to the New, from Judaism to Christianity, and initiating the teachings of Christ. These issues had to be worked out. Paul also wrote letters to specific churches with specific issues.

            As some women began to use their new freedoms in Christ, some appropriately did so – staying humble, yet fully participating in the life of the church in a way that they could not in the Judaic past. But some women, understandably, were likely so zealous about their new freedoms they went overboard and were disruptive or domineering. This seems why Paul in one place says women CAN pray and prophecy in the church, and in another place that they must be silent. Which is it? Clearly both! Some women needed a reprimand. Others did not. Paul also referred to women as his co-workers in the faith, not as his secretaries or assistants.

            I think that biblical egalitarianism and secular feminism are sadly confused. They are not one and the same!

  15. Susan says:

    Sadly, the caricatures you portray as “straw women” are more realistic than you might care to admit, especially in certain denominations or “families of churches.” I wish I could say otherwise, but over the years, I’ve met too many women who look just like what you’ve described, with the endorsement and encouragement of their husbands and/or church leaders.

  16. Kate says:

    wow…so inspiring on many levels. This post makes me want to get out my bible(and my dictionary) and get equipped to be able to aptly answer to the allegations that the world throws at us. If I can answer with half as much wit and wisdom as Mary, I’ll be thrilled!

  17. Brad says:

    Thanks for this article! Very insightful and fun. I have been reading up a lot on the debate, and I have been surprised at how Biblical many of the egalitarians are. Many seem to treasure Scripture and desire to be faithful to Scripture. They really want to submit to the teaching of Scripture. I was wondering if many complimentarian’s have created a strawman, saying that egalitarians don’t hold to the authority and inspiration of Scripture.

  18. Bethany says:

    Great post, hilarious pictures! Only thing is, I’ve attended complementarian churches for 10 years now, and I have met each one of those ladies. Some of them are actually very godly and have taught me great lessons. But they really all do exist. In our churches. So I’m not sure it’s fair to blame our critics. Maybe the problem has more to do with us, our application of teaching, and/or our depth of relationship.

  19. Jan B says:

    This truly needed to be said. Thank you for expressing it so well.

  20. L.S. says:

    I agree that it’s unfair to stereotype or create strawwomen of complementarian wives.

    At the same time, I hope the same consideration is given to egalitarian wives, who are often stereotyped in complimentarian discussions as domineering shrews who desire only to trample their husbands, or women with no concern for their husbands and children. That’s not the case, either. I have an egalitarian marriage, and I’d say that 99% of the time, it looks no different from a complimentarian marriage. The place where we differ is that, when my husband and I cannot come to a mutually agreeable solution to an issue, the final decision doesn’t automatically rest with him; instead, it rests with whomever we feel is either best equipped to make the decision or whomever will be most affected by the decision. After 14 years of marriage, we’ve never had a problem figuring that out. I don’t domineer or trample him, and he doesn’t meekly cower in front of me, the way one might expect from some complimentarian literature.

  21. Sara says:

    Yes, and you categorise all feminists as Scary Man-Haters who want to turn the world into a Matriarchy. I guess we could all use a little more understanding towards one another, hmmm? If you are upset the the complimentarian movement is being stereotyped, do other people a favour and don’t stereoptype them. Becaue honestly, every single thing you’ve ever said about feminism and women’s rights in general is grossly misinformed, ignorant and borderlines on fear-mongering territory.

  22. E says:

    I just read your article and I do think it is good. I did find myself thinking, “many of those kind of discribe me!” I am 29 and have 4 kids 6.5 and under, I do stay home with them, I do enjoy baking, and, Im a little afraid to say it….I homeschool! I know that the main point is that the Gospel is center and it should define our life FIRST and FOREMOST. But, I guess after reading I need a little encouragement from other Christian women (since I am surrounded by feminsm and many in the church and out who do look at me as “a little weird.” I have desired to serve the Lord by loving my children and husband, being a manager of my home, etc. (which is not the mindframe I had 11 years ago!) And right now, that makes me look like a more moderate version of many of those “straw-women” but, to the world I am probably perceived as the “extreme.” So, I would like to hear yout thoughts about that. Thank you!

    • Mary Kassian says:

      Be encouraged, E! Man looks at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart. Staying home, baking, and homeschooling your children for the sake of the gospel is definitely a wonderful thing to do! All of us must wrestle with how to apply God’s directives to our lives. Womanhood will look different from woman to woman, and for different personalities, and in different ages and stages of life. The main point is to seek to honor Christ in the choices and decisions we make — and to realize that true obedience flows from the heart, and is not contained in a behavioral checklist. So you go girl! Don’t worry about the opinions of others. Do what you know the Lord would have you do.

  23. This is one of the best and most balanced explanation of the complementarian position I’ve ever come across. Kudos! One thing I’d like to point out though: my denomination is decidedly egalitarian and has been since its inception in the mid-1800’s, allowing women to preach and hold offices in the church…even ordaining them to ministry. That is long before, as you contend, “the mid-eighties, when Egalitarians and Evangelical Feminists eagerly jumped on the feminist ideological bandwagon…”

    You make it sound like our position is some modern perversion of Christianity caused by the feminist movement. This is simply not true. If anything, my denomination is historically fundamentalist – we just have had a different understand of gender’s role in the church.

    • Mary Kassian says:

      The first wave of feminism in the 1800’s did result in some denominations with an alternate view on sex roles being established – and there have been various cults, such as the Gnostics and Montanists that have promoted egalitarian views on church leadership. But it was not until the second wave – which started in the 1960s, that Evangelical churches and denominations were so affected.

    • Sorry, you’re wrong there, Mary. My denomination (Church of God, Anderson) has been ordaining women since our inception. In fact, most of our early church planters were women. And we’re far from being a cult or Gnostic. Please know that I’m not being combative. I just want to point out that the egalitarian position is not the result of feminism. I’m sure in some groups this has been the case, but you’re painting with too broad of a brush. I appreciate your blog, though!

      • Mary Kassian says:

        Thanks for your note, Stephen. Let me clarify my comment. You mentioned that your church had been ordaining women since it’s inception in the mid-1800s. The first wave of feminism started in the early 1800s and culminated in 1920. One or two denominations established during that era did have a view on women’s “ordination” that differed from most denominations–and this was undoubtedly due to the influence of the first feminist wave. Furthermore, there have been instances of egalitarian views in various cults and sects throughout history, starting with the gnostics of the second to fourth century AD. (Please do not misunderstand me. I am in no way implying that your church is a cult–I am simply referring to the historical occurance of egalitarian views). To my knowledge, there are no orthodox main-line church denominations prior to the appearance of feminism in the 1800s that “ordained” women to the biblical position of “overseer/elder.” Churches that identified themselves as “evangelical” (a term that arose in the 1960s in response to the liberalism of that era) were relatively unaffected by this view until the middle of the second wave of feminism- in the mid-1980s. In any case, the prevalent view of orthodoxy, through almost two thousand years of history, back to the New Testament Church, has been that of complementary role distinctions rather than egalitarianism. Again, my point was that the Evangelical church did not begin to accept feminist views until the mid-eighties, and that until then, the complementarian view was the prevalent one. Historically, the practise of “women’s ordination” to role of bishop/elder/overseer is a recent phenomenum, tied to the rise of feminist philosophy.

  24. Molly says:

    I tend to agree with Bethany who has already posted. While I would probably call myself a complementarian, I have met all of those “Straw Women” and unfortunately, they are not all straw, they are real. Not exactly sure what the answer is, but I hope that we can learn to be feminine, strong, and Biblical women – and that those women who fit those stereotypes all too well – will be able to learn what true Biblical womanhood is.

  25. Love it – but you used the word “gender”…as a language teacher, I did cringe a bit.

    • Mary Kassian says:

      I understand that in recent years, various disciplines have sought to differentiate between “gender” and “sex” — Sex being the physical structure of a person’s body, and gender being more based on the social construct and a person’s psychological identification with that sex. However, while you might make a case based on semantics, I do not believe such a distinction is valid. Biblically, if you are of the male sex, then you ought to identify yourself with the male gender.

  26. Sandra says:


    Thank you for this excellent reminder.

    I’d love to hear you blog more about how to avoid, and even climb out of, being a Christian woman who leans toward these stereotypes. Among my good, Godly, well meaning Christian friends, phrases like “Submit to your brother because he is male,” or “Sin being somehow involved is the only reason for a woman not to homeschool,” or “a woman should never ever work outside the home if there is any other possible alternative,” (even part time), or “unless you are I’ll, it’s sin and convenience to limit yourself to just two children.”

    These are all real things said by real life, Godly women. The Vision Forum crowd has had far more influence on Christian wives and mothers in my circles than the healthier views that you, or the Mahaneys hold.

    We really do need more books, and discussions on healthy complimentarianism.

    Thank you for all you have already done!

    • Trisha says:

      I totally agree here. I am currently struggling with the baby issue. I have 5 right now 5 and under. I hear from some friends it is fine to be done. Then from others that my whole goal in life should be to have children. The quiverfull mentality I suppose. I love my kids but I also want to be the best steward I can be. How do I know when it is quittin time in the baby arena?? ugh…hard so hard

  27. Megan says:

    This is humorous, but oh so true! So many women need to see this.

  28. Sarah says:

    Mary, I have to say that as an egalitarian evangelical, I have often felt stereotyped by complementarians. As an earlier commenter pointed out, the majority of complementarian writers seem to assume that egalitarian women dominate their husbands and have no respect for men, something I would call a definite “straw man.” I have never met anyone in an egalitarian marriage in which one person felt squashed. I, for one, love my husband, and we have a wonderful relationship. We have never had a situation occur where we simply cannot agree and one of us has had to force the other person to adhere to a decision. I know you believe our position to be unbliblical, but there are countless debates within the church (eschatology, infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism, communion, biblical theocracy, etc.), and I for one would appreciate a little more respect from the complementarians. We are all Christians, but sometimes I feel like complementarians view us as “the enemy.”

    Also, I think that when presenting an argument intended to persuade, it’s usually good to include a concession to the opposing viewpoint– for instance, feminism has done some good things, and there are many churches and Christian groups that do promote these straw women of complementarity. In the conservative Christian community in which I was raised, people often looked down on a woman wearing pants. The same goes for a woman holding a job outside the home, and in some cases, for a woman attending college. I wish complementarians who were committed to their interpretation of the biblical roles would spend more time calling out people who force women to conform to these stereotypes. There really is prejudice and the oppression of women that exists within the church, and I would love to see you write an article discussing that, Mary. Thanks.

  29. Sunshine says:

    Love this! The straw woman I seem to run into the most is “Repressed Rita” and boy, does that tick me off. I volunteer in our church’s special needs family ministry, and we could use more help for sure! There is so much that women CAN do, yet it seems some ladies just want to focus on the only thing that is NOT needed/allowed for us – to be pastors/elders.

    • Laura Martin says:

      Your article described “repressed Rita”. There have been recent comments about “repressed Rita”, and that these so-called women should focus on all they CAN do – because women can do everything except pastor/elder. I agree that it is better to be positive and focus on what you can do. HOWEVER…Can women do EVERYTHING except be a pastor or elder in “complementarian” churches? Respectfully…that has NOT been my personal experience, nor of others I know, at a variety of complementarian churches. It has been significantly more strict than that.

      Examples of things women could NOT do: lead or even co-lead a mixed sex adult Sunday school class or small group, facilitate or even co-facilitate a discussion in an adult mixed sex setting, pray out loud in one of these same settings, serve the communion elements (in churches where they are held at the front of the church), have any type of “supervisory” (non-pastoral) position,etc.

      In one small group we were a part of, the husband got sick at the last minute (too late to cancel the group), and the wife could not take over in his place. EVEN THOUGH this was a DVD curriculum where “leading” essentially involved pressing play on the DVD player. This actually became a funny personal joke between me and my spouse…that a lady can’t even control the settings on a DVD in SOME complementarian circles.

      I don’t want to be unfair. Some complementarian churches are more or less restrictive on women. One complementarian church near me does indeed allow women to co-lead adult small groups. Another complementarian church has a woman in charge over the children/family department and her title is “minister”. BUT I see these differences among complementarian churches as an issue/problem. If the Scripture is so clear about what women can or can not do, why is there such difference among complementarian churches?

      Another instance…how is it that women from complementarian churches who go to the foreign mission field can often do many things on the foreign field that they were forbidden to do in the home church setting? I almost wonder about possible underlying racism here? A woman can be “over” foreign men but not “over” Caucasian men?? The denomination I was raised in…female missionaries sometimes ended up teaching men, yet at home this was very strictly forbidden.

      I’ve said enough. Thanks for letting me share and vent. It is just a shame that the gifts of some women are not being utilized in some/many complementarian churches.

  30. Luke Lawson says:

    My wife and I love your blog. Thank you.

  31. Hannah says:

    Hello Mary. I have been following your blog for a while and appreciate your observations. What I don’t get is, How can these be merely ‘stereotypes’ when they are real life women everywhere in most complementarian churches? I might have misunderstood, but the word stereotype in this article somehow suggests that people falsely assume that complementarian women act this way, when they actually do in real life (as observed by most of the comments here too) Although I believe men and women complement each other, I find it difficult when interpretations are made to show exactly what this should look like in practice. How can a person or a church determine how that looks in application when every woman has a unique situation, background, culture, circumstances and calling? complementarianism in my mind is a mystery, is fluid, is powered by grace and is for every married couple to work out according to their specific situation through prayer and seeking God. But most complementarian blogs attempt to make rules and suggestions to fit everyone in one box, thus resulting in these ‘stereotypes’ that actually do sadly reflect reality.

    • Mary Kassian says:

      I think that people sometimes have difficulty differentiating between “interpretation” and “application.” Interpretation has to do with the actual principles a text teaches. Application has to do with how the principle looks in practise. Sadly, some people confuse the two. I totally agree with you that every woman has a unique situation, background, culture, circumstances and calling — and that grace is needed to allow married couples to work out complementarity according to their specific situation through prayer and seeking God. Some complementarian blogs address women at a particular stage of life, and therefore do appear to make rules and suggestions to fit everyone into one box. As I writer/teacher, I know how difficult it is to teach principles in such a way that women feel the freedom/confidence to apply those principles in the way they feel led -to personally rely on God’s Spirit for guidance in application. Most people want a list. A list is so much “easier” because it’s so clear. Unfortunately, a list is also legalistic. And that’s why the Bible doesn’t give us check-lists. The Bible elevates the question of obedience to a far different plane.

  32. Hannah says:

    Thank you Mary, this makes a lot of sense. I’ve been reading complementarian blogs, and have found it really hard to apply their practices to my life. It is as if I was trying to live someone else’s story rather than be content with my own. I am married to my soulmate, live in a big city, my husband and I are infertile and both work very hard. Our marriage is built on showing ‘hesed’ to each other and trying to put the other first by God’s grace. I feel I don’t fit the complementarian mould and is somehow left out of all of this, especially when the common advice if I don’t have biological children is to look for other people’s children to nurture to fulfil what I was made for. I love children but I don’t have any in my sphere at this point in time, and I didn’t choose this situation. I don’t understand how both the interpretations and practices of complementarity are relevant to my specific situation. Are they only specific to certain women, stages, social class or culture? Thank you for your comment.

  33. Love this. Too funny. Also too true.

    I have been asked on many accounts why a “woman like” me would stay in the faith tradition I am in. That question, while flattering on the surface for its affirmation of my gifts for teaching and exhortation, reflects the very fundamental misunderstandings of complementarianism you mention above. The assumption that follows from these misunderstandings is that any woman with half a brain and preaching gifts could choose only one thing: to find a place where she can stand in the pulpit/conference lectern. Quickly that flattering affirmation turns to deep insult and injury.

    Not only am I personally insulted and injured, but the ministry God has placed me in is insulted and injured. I stay where I am doing what God has called me to because, in fact, he called me to it. Why on earth does that have to mean that I checked my brain and gifts at the door of my life?

    On the flip side of the coin, I have been privy to many conversations in which women called to very public ministries are lambasted as ungodly, unholy, radical feminists. And these conversations almost always include women only!

    This is just one more issue where we women must ask ourselves why on earth we feel compelled to be so judgmental of each other. Why must the way I live out my walk in Christ look exactly like every other woman’s walk? And their’s like mine?

    When will we women stop biting each other’s heads off and start listening and loving each other better?

  34. Dora Dueck says:

    I just want to add my voice to those who note that the caricatures go both ways. If we have to use a label, although I don’t find them helpful much of the time, I would describe myself as feminist, and holding an egalitarian position theologically. Still, when I read your descriptions of the ideal complementarian woman, I found myself agreeing with much of it. And I have to say that there was something offensive in how shrilly you painted the straw women of your position; it was intended to be funny, I suppose, but it’s such an insult to those who comfortably engage in friendship and church work with women who may be either complementarian or egalitarian, and respect each other, etc.

    In other words, one could write such a post with the straw women posited for the “other” side. And believe me, as you say, “thinking through how to apply God’s eternal principles requires brains, backbone, and courage.” It is not easy to be a woman of differing views in an environment as widely held as yours that is quite certain that it’s figured out what the principles are and how to apply those, and that it holds “biblical” views.

    Well, others have said these things in response, but I needed to add my voice. Let’s keep working together, thinking together.

    I do think you’re wrong that “the local church is to corporately reflect the dynamics of a healthy marriage relationship” if, that is, you’re applying that to how men and women function within the church. The Church is a model for marriage, not the other way around. The church corporately functions as “bride” in relation to Christ. I happen to be married so I have one husband; the other men in the church are not my husbands but my brothers, and we are co-workers, joint heirs of Christ our head and elder brother.

  35. Aj Atrocity says:

    thanks for this! i’ve been getting frustrated with women my age who are Christians but 90% of them hold onto non-Christian beliefs about gender, and it seems no matter how many times i explain it to them patiently, they just talk about these ‘straw women’ and disregard everything i say and every scripture i show them >:p they make me feel like i’m boring ad old or something :////
    but my church is full of amazing ladies who are not a bit like any of these false representations!

  36. Genie says:

    I have a bone to pick with some of these posts, particularly the posters that say that they have met one or two of these caricatures in real life.
    Appearance and reality can be very different things. Unless, you have personally followed these women around and have known what was inside their hearts, please do not sit in a judgement seat for them. How can you judge a woman based on what she is doing (or NOT doing in your mind) and describe her as brainless or without ambition? My mother was a stay-at-home mom and yes, many of the things she did revolved around the home. She did not pursue a higher education. Still, she was one of the most ambitious, industrious, and strong women I have ever met. I have yet to meet her equal.
    Maybe to an outside person, my mom did look like one of those stereotypes, but she was really a brilliant person.
    I think often times we look down on these women because they aren’t doing what we feel they should be doing in modern times. We forget that these are people, individual souls, with dreams, thoughts, and hopes for the future. The truth is no one is a caricature, to say such is an insult to our Creator.
    If Kitchen-Trapped Kathy wants to stay in the kitchen, what is that to you? Maybe she likes to cook, maybe it gives her pride to have a good home, and gives her a sense of self-actualization/fulfillment.If a certain activity makes a woman feel good about herself or is something she likes doing, that does not mean she believes that is the ONLY thing she can do.
    I do believe many traditional roles of women are berated and degraded because such roles are don’t involve ‘power’ and don’t ‘turn a profit’, which is all this world cares about.
    I am a feminist and I do believe that God has called us all to be individuals. I do not associate myself with egalitarian or complimentarian or any other divisive term. I think women should be valued no matter what she is doing. We women should stop fighting each other and help each other out. The battle between egalitarian and complimentarians reminds me of the Sarah/Hagar situation in the Bible, when are we going to stop biting each others heads off?

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