Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Men Need Respect, Women Need Love" - Really?

An anonymous commenter on my last blog post told me this:
God, in His wisdom, made man the head of the union between man and his wife. He has created a desire in the woman to be loved, and in the man to be respected, and there is no amount of social re-engineering that can change that.
This seems to me to be a good opportunity to address the whole love-vs-respect idea that most male-headship proponents espouse.  Where does this idea come from, that God made women to need love more than respect, and men to need respect more than love-- and that this is a basis for belief in male headship?

The chief source of this idea appears to be the very popular complementarian book Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs.  Eggerichs is quoted in his guest series on this topic on the Focus on the Family blog:
Women need to feel loved, and men need to feel respected. This may explain why Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:33 that a husband must love his wife and a wife must respect her husband. Both commands are unconditional. The hard part is that respect comes more easily to men, and love comes easier to women.
To be fair, Eggerichs doesn't teach that men need only respect and not love, or that women need only love and not respect.  On his Love & Respect Website he elaborates:
We all need love and respect. I preach this and I teach this. I am not dogmatic in suggesting that a husband does not need love. I am not dogmatic in suggesting that a wife does not need respect. 
However, because Ephesians 5:33 reveals that a husband must love his wife and a wife must respect her husband, we see a distinction that is full of significance. Maybe we can answer this way: though we all need love and respect equally, like we all need water and food equally, a wife has a felt need for love and a husband has a felt need for respect. Said another way, she feels hunger pains for her husband’s love more often in the marriage and a husband feels more thirsty for his wife’s respect.
Ok, but is this really what Ephesians 5:33 is talking about?  Do men really feel more need for respect and women for love?

Psychologist Shauna Springer, PhD., wrote a rebuttal in This Psychology Today online article, questioning the universality of the results Eggerichs obtained from his study samples of 400 men and a similar number of women.  Four hundred is not a very big number from which to extrapolate to what all (or even most) men vs. women want.  Springer used a sample group that was deliberately weighted towards highly achieving women, and obtained the opposite result from Eggerichs' sample of women:
To test my theory that respect is equally critical for many women as for many men, I set out to profile the marriages of some of the smartest women I have known and their equally capable friends (The Lifestyle Poll). The first phase of data collection for The Lifestyle Poll was based heavily on a Harvard college graduate sample. In this group of 300 women, 75% reported that they would rather feel alone and unloved than disrespected and inadequate.

In other words, within this group of highly educated, accomplished women, the tendency to favor respect over love was equivalent in degree to the preference expressed among males that was used to launch a best-selling book predicated on what now seems to be an inaccurate assumption of a consistent gender difference. [Emphasis in original.]
Given the differences between Eggerichs' study results and Springer's, it appears that at least for women, their felt need for love vs. respect depends a lot on individual differences between women. The same is likely to be true for men.  If Eggerichs' study samples contained, for example, a high proportion of evangelicals, then the results he obtained may have been more related to the expectations of evangelical culture than to any general tendency in all men as opposed to all women.

In any event, common sense tells us that respect is part of love. You really can't love someone if you don't respect them, and a person who is treated without respect will not feel loved.  As the same Psychology Today article puts it:
At times, I thought that Eggerichs might begin to see how disrespect is at the core of many marital problems for wives as well as for husbands. For example, he says that a wife “yearns to be honored, valued and prized as a precious equal” (p. 11) and that wives “fear being a doormat,” (p. 53) and informs his male readers that a wife will feel “esteemed” when “you are proud of her and all that she does” and when “you value her opinion in the grey areas as not wrong but just different and valid” (p. 73). Why not just substitute the word “esteemed” with the word “respected?”
Words like "honor" and "esteem" are really pretty synonymous with "respect."  In fact, the Bible does indeed tell husbands to respect their wives:
Likewise, you husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. 1 Peter 3:7, King James 2000 version, Emphasis added.
Honor, especially in the honor-shame culture of the New Testament, is pretty much respect and then some.  To give someone "honor" in that culture was not just to be respectful and show esteem in your private lives together, but to give them public recognition and respect.

The Bible also advises that wives should love their husbands:
The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sensible, to love their husbands, to love their children... Titus 2:3-4, King James 2000 version, Emphasis added. 
 So why this emphasis on respect vs. love in terms of men as opposed to women?

Some of this is simply confirmation bias, which is defined as "a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions."  We Christians may think we believe in male headship because the Bible teaches it, but we have to watch our tendency to conclude that the Bible teaches male headship because we believe in it.*

The idea that men feel the need for respect more than women do, tends to confirm the idea that men are natural leaders, and the idea that women feel the need for love more than men do, supports the idea that women are emotional, dependent beings-- and thus, male headship.  So a verse like Ephesians 5:33, which tells husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands, is easy to read as a statement of fundamental gender differences underlying the principle of male headship.

The problem is that other verses (like 1 Peter 3:7 and Titus 2:2-4) simply don't support the use of Ephesians 5:33 as a proof-text for a love-and-respect difference between men and women.  After all, if we were to base our theory of gender relations on 1 Peter 3:7 all by itself (as we've been taking Ephesians 5:33 all by itself), we would conclude that what women need most from their husbands is actually public honor.

So, since the social science doesn't seem to bear out this love-vs-respect differentiation between men and women either, then it's most likely that Ephesians 5:33 is talking about something else altogether.

What it comes down to, I think, is a fundamental failure to consider the Ephesians 5 passage in terms of its original authorial intent, as it would have been understood by its original audience. As I've said before, until we understand what it meant to them, we can't understand how to apply it to ourselves.

The real question to ask, then, is what were the basic dynamics of marriage in the time and place Paul was writing Ephesians?  To refrain from asking this question is to read into the Ephesian passage the modern, Western dynamic of married life: that is, that two people who are essentially social equals, with equal rights and responsibilities, fall in love with one another and choose one another to commit themselves to.  Thinking of marriage in this way does give us very little reason to think why Paul would tell men to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands, if these instructions were not related in some way to the male and female psyche.

However, what Paul was thinking about when he taught on marriage, and what his first-century Ephesian audience would have had in mind, was a different dynamic entirely.  As this brief synopsis on PBS.org states:
Marriage in Roman times was often not at all romantic. Rather, it was an agreement between families. Men would usually marry in their mid-twenties, while women married while they were still in their early teens. As they reached these ages, their parents would consult with friends to find suitable partners that could improve the family’s wealth or class.
As this article from Women in the Ancient World explains, marriage in the ancient Rome-controlled world did require the consent of the man and woman involved, but they often did not choose their spouse, but only consented to their family's choice.  And for a woman, especially if the family had substantial assets and it was her first marriage, there was an even greater expectation for her to go along with her father's choice and put his authority first:
[Y]oung girls were in no position to fight their parents even on something as important as the choice of a marriage partner. Over the years there was a gradual increase in women’s economic power and in their status in society, but a father’s right both in theory and in practice to choose at least the first husband of a daughter remained constant throughout the Republic and the Empire. . . For the last century or two of the Republic and throughout the Empire most marriages were “without manus.” That is to say, the wife remained under the authority of her father. If a woman had to be under someone’s control, a doting father living in another house was a much better bet than a husband.       
Further, though men also may have simply consented to, and not chosen, their bride, the groom was not expected to confine his sexual activity only to his wife. This scholarly paper by Claude Dauphin states:
The fourth century BC Athenian orator Apollodoros made it very clear in his speech Against Neaira quoted by Demosthenes (59.122) that 'we have courtesans for pleasure, and concubines for the daily service of our bodies, but wives for the production of legitimate offspring and to have reliable guardians of our household property'.
So instead of our understanding of a marital union by mutual consent of two partners who love each other and both swear to be faithful, the shared assumption between the writer and the audience of the letter to the Ephesians would have been an authority-subordinate arrangement for the benefit of the man, in which he would most likely have been 10 years or more older than the woman, and where she had little choice and few options.

I have written at length elsewhere about the historical-cultural understanding of marriage in Ephesians, in which I summarized:
Paul was trying to grow an infant religious movement, which meant not fighting existing authority structures– but if within the body of Christ, Christians in positions of authority did not act on that authority, but laid down their privilege and served, and where those in subordinate positions did not passively resist or actively rebel, but willingly gave their best and served, it would all end up in a kind of functional equality, existing in Christian households in an age where the concept of “equal rights” as we now know them, did not yet exist. Paul’s teachings on Christian relationships would, if followed, undermine ancient societal norms from within, eventually resulting in more just, equitable social structures in cultures influenced by these teachings.
 In light of this, what might Paul have been getting at by telling husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands in Eph. 5:33?

As the Scripture4All online interlinear informs us, the Greek word Paul uses for "love" in this verse is transliterated "agapato," while the word often translated as "respect" is "phobetai."  "Agapato" or "agapeo" is, according to Vines' Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, a kind of self-sacrificing, deliberate love that seeks first the good of the beloved, which is "the characteristic word of Christianity."(1966 ed., p. 20-21).  "Phobetai" or "phobeo," on the other hand, actually means "fear," and often refers to the respect one has for social structures of authority, as in Romans 13:6-7:
For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Emphasis added.)
Understood this way, what Paul is probably saying about love and respect in Ephesians 5:33 is probably something more like this:

Husbands, in this marriage relationship you have a lot more power and agency than your wife does. I've already told you to lay down your power and position just like Christ did, in order to raise your wife up as Christ raises up the church.  So love her as Christ loves the church!  Deny yourself for her sake; don't deny her for your own sake. Don't treat her as only a vessel to give you offspring, or as a servant to take care of your house.  Don't go visiting prostitutes or keeping mistresses.  Put her needs first, give yourself for her, and treat her with the care you use to take care of your own body.

And you wives, I know you didn't choose this man you're married to, and that your consent to this marriage may have meant very little.  I know he's much older than you.  I know that society has placed you as a woman, under male authority.  So I'm not expecting you to be able to give your husband the kind of self-giving love that I'm expecting him to give you.  But since in many cases you're still considering your primary authority over you to be your father, I'm asking you to turn to your husband instead.  I've already surprised you by treating you as not merely a possession for him to rule-- I've spoken to you as one who has a choice in the matter, because you're free in Christ.  I've asked you to choose to submit to him voluntarily, and to consider that a service to Christ.  So don't rebel against your husband, but respect the authority society has given him.  I've told him to lay down his power and privilege and raise you up as Christ raised up the church, so if he does as I ask, you'll find yourself by his side and sharing his power, rather than beneath him and obeying his power. 

Am I putting words in Paul's mouth?  Maybe-- but certainly not more so than those who say Paul was talking about some intrinsic characteristic of all women everywhere to need love more than respect, or of all men everywhere to need respect more than love.  If I'm putting words in Paul's mouth, at least they're along the lines of what he and his audience would have understood about marriage at the time he wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus.

If I'm putting words in Paul's mouth, at least they have the meanings he would have given to the words "love" and "respect," and not what they might sound like to us 2000 years later and half the globe away.

Love and respect are not gender distinctions supporting male headship.  As used in Ephesians 5, they're not stand-alone concepts that can be lifted out of context and used to make blanket statements about men vs. women.

And it really doesn't make sense anyway to build a whole theory of gender out of one verse.


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*Of course, confirmation bias can work the other way as well, as male-headship believers often tell gender-equality believers: that we want the Bible to teach gender equality and so we find that it does. Christian egalitarians need to be aware of this possibility-- but there are other compelling reasons to believe the Bible teaches gender equality than simply that we think it should.

18 comments:

Marie said...

Thank you for pointing out in your article something I think should be repeated--that the culture of biblical times is not our culture. The fact that you need to unpack the words speaks to the fact that it was a high context culture. Now being from a certain culture does give you a bias but I don't think it means that you can't see outside this bias to understand other cultures. Understanding where you are coming from can be helpful in detecting hidden unspoken assumptions. For example, in Western low context societies, we tend to look at the exact way something is worded. And for good reason--high technological advancement means precision is needed in execution. The English language is enormous, containing over a million words, many that are specialized to support our many highly technical industries. The ancients didn't have this; their vocabularies were much simpler, facilitating oral transmissions. Most of the world was illiterate and writing was rather expensive. So when things were written they were written at a high context level, much as what was said was also at a high context level. This is an alien world to us and applying modern cultural methods of reading to those ancient texts may result in errors.

Don said...

I agree with the original post and go even further. Not only are believers to show love and respect, believers are to act like Christ, per Eph 5:1-2. So what I see Paul doing in Eph 5 is repeating what is true for every believer, but emphasizing the things that might be a temptation to violate in each 1st century believer's life depending on whether they were a wife or husband. Once one sees it that way, the entire non-egal argument based on Eph 5 falls apart.

Anonymous said...

To support their love-respect gender theory, you read and hear in hierarchical materials this oft quoted quip of Eggerich's: "The hard part is that respect comes more easily to men, and love comes easier to women." Really? History does not bear out that respect comes more easily to men, so they are only reminded to love their wives. This is simply untrue. Men have not historically respected women.

Further, the Greek phobeo (fear) in the Eph 5 text has a sense of obeisance which as you indicate would have been expected of first century wives. Eggerich is asking us to believe that men more easily pay obeisance to women. Please.

Angie

Virginia Knowles said...

Thanks for writing this! The way the modern church handles "love and respect" really does irk me. I wrote some here:

http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2014/03/if-you-expect-real-respect.html

and

http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2014/06/follow-way-of-love.html

Virginia Knowles

Retha said...

I read someone claiming that the best translation is not "and the wife (should see) that she respect her husband" but: "or the wife will fear her husband".
According to that translater, the text say that if a man does not do the love part, his wife will fear him.

Emilie said...

Thank you for such a thorough treatment of this passage. I remember reading it as a young, single college student and thinking, "So that means spouses are more or less equal, right?" The church I attended at the time, while wonderful in many ways, was always quick to point out no, these are two different commands and the man is in charge. Ten years and several happy wedding anniversaries later, writing like yours and Rachel Held Evans's have given me confidence to return to my original gut feeling, for which both my husband and I are grateful.

Tania said...

Awesome post, thank you for clarifying this so well.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

I've always focused more on the beginning of the paragraph: Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus went to the cross for the church. Reading verse 33 without the preceding verses can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings.

Marilyn Johnson said...

There are three components to the L&R teaching: the Crazy Cycle, the Energizing Cycle, and the Rewarded Cycle.

Many couples benefit from the Crazy Cycle material. Although it’s true that Eggerichs cites Feldhahn’s small sample surveys, the empirical work that is the basis for most of his conclusions is from the highly respected Dr. John Gottman. Gottman finds that during times of conflict, women are more apt to show criticism and contempt, while men are more apt to withdraw and stonewall. If you’re willing to label criticism/contempt as “disrespect” and withdrawing/stonewalling as “unloving”, then Eggerichs’ statements about marital conflict are well-supported. I count myself as one of many spouses who is the better for exposure to this material.

The problem is with the other two cycles. The Energizing Cycle is about things husbands (wives) should do to show love (respect). While a pastor, Eggerichs promoted the teachings of Gothard and Ezzo. That shows in the Energizing Cycle material in the middle third of the book. The advice is much more conservative than standard complementarian reads like the Gothard authority structure with the addition of the Ezzo/Harley sex teaching. The COUPLE advice to husbands implies that love is little more than a few minutes a day of Ezzo “couch time”. Wives are told to submit, but there is no correlative counsel to husbands to sacrifice for their wives. Nor is mutuality in the bedroom taught.

The final third of the book, the Rewarded Cycle, is problematic because the teaching is not adequately qualified. Spouses are told to turn the other cheek. In the normal course of a marriage, this makes sense. Specks and logs... We’re all immune to our own biases. But, this advice can also enable sinful behavior patterns in men OR women. At a minimum, the teaching should be more nuanced.

So, I see you as offering an important critique of the middle third of the L&R book. I see the first third of the book as applicable to all, not merely to complementarians. An egalitarian could easily ground the opening material in the differential effects of the Fall. I wish egals would take this on!

Curious Thinker said...

Hello, Kristen I've followed your blog recently and agree with your post. I hold similar views on my post regarding what biblical doctrines are taught among the patriarchal movement and the true biblical doctrines. I hope you can also check out my blog someday as I'm trying to get more readers. Great post.

Kristen said...

I appreciate everyone's well-reasoned input. Marilyn Johnson especially-- thanks for the great summary of the book! I do think that understanding certain trends that are different between men and women can be very helpful, as long as we understand that they're only trends. Really, the best advice from Gottman's work seems to be, "If you're the kind that criticizes and shows contempt to your significant other, learn to show respect! If you're the kind who withdraws and stonewalls, learn to show more love!" I'm sure there are couples for whom the male-female dynamic is actually opposite.

Marilyn Johnson said...

Thanks for your kind words. My reading of Genesis suggests that gender differences have important implications for all of us. But, given the problems with complementarian teaching - particularly the Gothard/Ezzo/Eggerichs tradition - I understand why dismissing gender seems like the most reasonable response.

PhoenicianPrincess88 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PhoenicianPrincess88 said...

Marilyn- stonewalling and criticising are not male and female conversational techniques. They are an abusive partner/victim scenario being played out.

The abusive partner is more likely to stonewall because he doesn't want to have to engage in converation about his misdeed and because the lack of conversation works in his benefit (silence benefits the wrong person, not the right one, because it hides details and details prove him wrong. wrong people naturally want to stifle conversation and hide facts).

Criticism does not mean a lack of respect and cannot be "interpreted" that way automatically. One partner may crticise more not because they are a critical person, but because they are more likely to be experiencing or being on the butt end of behaviour that is criticisable and unjust. Fact.

Modern psychology and popular culture, John Grey Venus Mars and all that pseudoscience have convinced people that these behaviours are mere "differences in communication." My arse. They are differences in communication the same way painting and not painting are differences in art style... not communicating is not a "different style" of communicating. It is a lack of communication.

And the subsequent claim that since the woman is more likely to be the one doing the communicating (because she is more likely the one in the victim role), that women "love communication" is not true and is a lie. The communicating partner uses words because using words is in that person's interest, not because they enjoy or are prone to or wired to do it.

It is a tricky little way to claim the victim's nature caused her behaviour, rather than that the treatment she is receiving is what is forcing her do perform that behaviour It's similar to pushing a schoolmate down and then claiming he is clumsy.

Since the abusive partner is more likely to be a man then naturally the stonewaller is more likely to be a man. Since the abused partner is more likely to be a woman, the person desperately trying to communicate, and the person with all the complaints, is more liikely to be a woman.

But both men and women can be abused and abused. These are abuse perpetrator tactics, not personal habits, and they can often be quite conscious and calculated.

Anonymous said...

Toooooo mmuuuucccccchhhh Feminism. You talk of searching for evidence in light ones preconceived notions yet your rebuttal leverages the same technique. Your arguments about the meaning of the text are far reaching at best. You strip the meaning from the text by constricting it to its historical context. You argument states implores us to--despite the narrative of Husbands to love and wives to reverence found in the NT scriptures regarding marriage--ignore our common sense and relegate meaning to outdated not universally applicable historical contexts which rob the text of real value.

If you dont close a blind eye to the NATURE of man and the NATURE of women perhaps this whole love and respect thing would make more sense. This isnt about building theories of gender from on verse. Estrogen is real. Testosterone is real. Hormonal differences are all real. These lead to VERY real differences in nature. I hate hyper feminism bs.

Kristen said...

You know, Anonymous, to come onto a Christian feminist's blog and complain that it's got too much feminism is a bit-- well. If you don't want Christian feminism, don't read the blog, ok? I've made no secret of what I'm about.

As far as your notion that exploring the historical, contextual meaning of a text somehow strips its meaning-- you do realize that without that historical context, all you've got is what you think the text means-- right? You've got no grounding or evidence as to why the text means what you think it should. But I have presented, not just the historical context, but the evidence of other scriptures, to show that just because you want a text to mean something, doesn't make it really mean that.

As for the nature of men and women, studies show that there is a greater variation within each sex than there is between the sexes. This isn't about building theories of gender from a single hormone, either. All men have estrogen as well as testosterone-- and vice versa for women. In short, it's just not as simple or as binary as you're trying to make it. And the Bible's testimony isn't that simple or binary, either.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Anonymous, do you have any suggestions for how to deal with the red mark the facepalm you just caused me to do caused?

Anonymous said...

I follow the fb page for the L and R nook and I notice he mainly just posts about women respect and not so much on men's roles.
As a woman who's made fun of and at butt of jokes for being quiet and shy or not given opportunities in life, I find respect is something I crave a heck more. I'm tired of not being taken seriously. And I'm tired of being a doormat also and watching my spouse use "respect" as a command when he's in a bad mood. Some people just abuse any book and refuse to read the whole thing ....and are offended by the book called "boundaries" which they also take the title out of context without reading