As the father of five sons, I find myself cringing if the news comes on in front of them. With high-profile men seen to be using and abusing women in the highest realms of politics, government, sports, and entertainment, I sometimes wonder how to keep the concept of the predatory, misogynist man from being normalized for my sons.
The truth is, though, this is not just a struggle for those of us who parent boys. Every Christian teaches the next generation of men, since all of us are responsible for building up the body of Christ.
So what’s most important in rearing boys to respect women?
Sameness and Distinctiveness
The mistreatment of women—in thought, word, or deed—comes when one ignores the interplay of sameness and distinctiveness when it comes to men and women. Men and women are, before anything else, the same, in that we are created together in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), called together to the cultivation of the cosmos (Gen. 1:28), and heirs together of the kingdom of God in Christ (Gal. 3:28-29). We have the same origin, the same gospel, and the same destiny.
At the same time, the Bible makes clear distinctions between maleness and femaleness, sometimes speaking to specific callings and vulnerabilities of each, and detailing responsibilities of each to the other. If we de-emphasize or ignore either of these truths, we can end up empowering the mistreatment of women and girls by men and boys.
We can over-emphasize male/female distinctions in a way that can lead boys to see women as entirely other, or as weak and needy without a man. This can lead to a whole spectrum of ways that men can minimize the dignity and callings of women.
Sometimes this shows up as the “chivalrous” man who would never assault or abuse a woman but who also never seeks out the gifts and leadership that God has given to women.
Sometimes, in its darkest form, this ends up in a man who sees a woman as an object for his appetites, whether for sex or for anger or for the humiliation of others deemed weaker than he.
We can over-emphasize this sameness, though, in a way that mutes the unique vulnerabilities that can arise in the male/female dynamic.
The Bible calls on all of us to never treat any other human being as a means to an end, and not to fight or quarrel with one another.
Why is this so?
The Bible does not see vulnerability as a sign of a lack of importance. In fact, this is quite the opposite for a people of a crucified Christ. Virtually everyone in our society can agree that there are special vulnerabilities for women in our society, of their potential mistreatment by men. Some of this has to do with the fact that women are generally (though certainly not always) not as physically strong as men, and thus vulnerable to harm. Some of it has to do with the way children are born and nurtured. A man can more easily abandon his responsibilities to his children than can a woman who carries these children in her own body.