Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Should Women Want?

First off, let me say that I love the title for this post. It is just the sort of thing that should be aggravating enough to generate a response. But I actually intend to be careful in how I come across. On the one hand, I do want to share my opinion and I think I have that right. Wisdom is wisdom, whether it is stated by a man or a woman, because it ultimately comes from God. Women have taught me a lot about what a man should be. There is nothing wrong in returning the favor, if I have something helpful to say. On the other hand, I want to do everything I can to avoid the appearance of being chauvinistic, and of suggesting that I know better than women by the mere virtue of being a man. What I really hope to do here is share something out of the Bible, not lord it over anyone. I may not be able to keep it from being perceived in a bad light by some, but I certainly do not mean it that way, and I hope I can be given the benefit of the doubt.

The Pay Gap

So, with that said, I suppose it is time to step out into the minefield. I began writing this last week, and in my first draft I made a comment about how the “wage gap” had gone without being a news item for a little while. I was going to bring it up thanks to two little pop-culture references I had seen a few days before. Ironically, it has come back into the news thanks to Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech and the US Department of Labor taking up her call to action. My timing could hardly be better (but I want credit for being ahead of the curve!)

Many people are concerned that women only make a fraction of what men do, 77 cents on the dollar. It is often implied, or even stated outright, that there is a gap in pay between men and women who perform the same job and with the same qualifications. But this is not quite the case, which is explained well in this article from Time. The gap is between all men and all women working full-time, and therefore does not take into account differences in profession, education, seniority, and a number of other factors. When these are corrected, there is essentially no gap at all. What little remains can be explained by variables too difficult to quantify.

There may not be a gap when we compare one-on-one and look at men and women who share similar circumstances. But still, there is little question that all working women make less than all working men. Many who advocate for women see this as an injustice in itself, regardless of the equality that exists across the various fields. They see it as a deeper sexism, with women forced into careers in less lucrative fields, or into taking time away to have children or raise families. All women make less because they do not have the same choices as men. Or so the argument goes.

Cultural Expectations

This leads us to my question, though. What should women want? And depending on how you look at it, I am not really the one asking. Feminists talk about institutional restraints, but that is honestly a bit unfair. It assumes women would not choose to stay at home, or to pick careers that are less profitable but perhaps more fulfilling. By arguing for the elimination of the absolute pay gap, they are saying women ought to value money more than anything else.

Perhaps they would respond, women should value money because that is what our culture values. But such thinking seems equally flawed. Why play into the culture when you deem it the source of oppression in the first place? In fact, I would even agree that culture is a corrupting influence. It has given consumerism a place of primary importance. How much do you make? What do you own? It is shameful that such things should be the measure of a man. Why should women be chained to the same standard?

That is the irony of the whole situation. A number of women work for a wage not because they want to, but because they are pressured to do so. They feel forced to work so they can afford the lifestyle expected of them. To my eyes, that is real oppression. If a woman feels like she has to work because that is what feminism has “won” for her, where is the freedom in that? Activists who argue over women making less than men do only perpetuate this troubling scenario.

Of course, a day may come when they see the truth of this and the pendulum swings the opposite direction. Maybe feminists will tell women to stay at home and refuse to work, forcing their husbands to take care of them. I think that would be swinging too far the other way, but at least it would recognize the truth of our current situation.

The Biblical Answer

What does the Bible have to say about all of this, though? Well, it takes something of a moderate position, with women captive neither to the home nor to the office. This can be seen in the Proverb of the Virtuous Wife, found in Proverbs 31:10-31. Rather than copy the entire thing here, you can follow this link to read it. It presents the ideal woman, to whom all women should aspire and for whom all men should seek. She is trustworthy, caring, charitable, industrious, economical, clever, prudent, and modest. Her home is her kingdom, not her jail cell. She does make money, but money has no power over her and is not her primary responsibility or goal. She looks out for her husband’s interests, but after all, they are her interests, as well. She knows that they are one, and his honor is hers. Above all, her desire is for wisdom, which means respecting the Lord God. This is not a woman who “knows her place.” This is a woman who has made her place a home. Why should there be no honor in that, just because we cannot put a numerical value on her efforts? Why should she not be happy that her husband is pleased with her? It makes it so that his desire is for her to be pleased with him. They work together. They are truly equal.

Virtues make a person, man or woman, excellent. You can make a seven-figure salary and still be miserable (or make other people miserable). If you have virtue, though, you will find the fulfillment of a job well done, no matter what the job. Then you will see more clearly the difference between fighting for equality, and complaining for its own sake. What I mean to say is that women should want what men should want, which is to live lives that are blessings. Money should only ever be a tool, not a goal. If your family would be better off with you at home, then be at home and know you are doing work of which you can be proud. Remember whose example we are all following. As far as we know, Jesus never made any real money (except one time when He literally made money. Check out Matthew 17:24-27). Wealth was not His goal. If it had been, He would have stayed in heaven. But He came here to show us that the best thing in life is to love and to be loved. Let that be what your families see in you. You can never be richer than that.

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