The Value of Gender Stereotypes

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Dear Dawson,

By this point you have probably noticed that I have been engaging in what is now called “gender stereotyping.” Perhaps you were brought up by such polite parents that you were able to look over it, acting as though nothing untoward had been happening at all.

What I would like to do in this letter is defend that practice, and perhaps even to explain it some. I touched on this in an earlier letter, but as your future marital happiness depends on it, indulge me for a few minutes while I defend the value of gender stereotypes.

The way our speech gestapo have fought against this practice is simple enough. Rather than provide an argument why such generalizations are to be avoided, they have resorted to the simple expedient of simply “being really offended” whenever it happens. In other words, if you talk this way, then you will be guaranteed to have negative experiences with the people around you. And since no one likes having those kinds of negative experiences, they start to police their own behavior. They start to self-censor. This is not because anyone has taken them through the steps of any kind of argument, but rather because they don’t want to set anybody off, or make a scene.

As I was writing this to you, a friend of mine said something sensible about women on Twitter, and that set off a Twitter-swarm. Looking for reasoned discourse in these swarms is like being attacked by thousands of mutant hornets, and wasting your time trying to identify the most diplomatic hornet among them so that you might have some constructive interaction. But these guys don’t want to reason with you—their most developed argument runs along the lines of “shut up, you moron.”

So the reluctance that so many have to make generalizations is probably the strongest evidence we have that the foundational assumptions of egalitarianism have taken deep root in our culture. Even those who are not persuaded of these assumptions have agreed to be policed in line with them—which means that over time they are in fact being persuaded by them. This is how the egalitarianism of twenty years ago is the complimentarianism of today.

Let me first demonstrate the legitimacy of generalizing, and then go on to press it into the corners. Suppose that, in some public place like Twitter, someone uses their account to post something like this: “I’m generalizing of course, but men are taller than women.” What can be said to this, besides “shut up, you moron?”

What does that “I’m generalizing of course” actually mean? It means that this person is saying something like “For the most part, men are taller than women.” Take the average man, and take the average woman, and the chances are pretty good that the man is the taller one. Take the height of one hundred random men, and the height of one hundred random women, average those respective sets of heights, and the average height of the male group will be taller than the female group.

This is simply the first stage of my argument, but I must hurry because there is probably a warrant out for my arrest already.

The phrases “I’m generalizing” and “For the most part” mean that the speaker himself knows that there are exceptions to his statement. He himself is 5’ 11” and his sister is 6’1”. He knows that. This is why he said for the most part. The generalization, taken as a generalization, is true.

But we have been trained to think of stereotyping as the foundational enemy of justice. The thought is that because false stereotypes have been used in the past by bigoted individuals, it has become therefore necessary to ban all accurate stereotypes as a means of fighting bigotry. And yes, I said accurate stereotypes. Men are taller than women.

If you are debating this issue with someone in evangelical circles, that person might retreat to a position that says that stereotyping only becomes hurtful if you are saying something critical about a person—which being tall or short isn’t.

But a critical generalization can be accurate also.

“One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”

Titus 1:12–13 (NKJV)

Notice that Paul generalizes about Cretans, and the generalization is sharply critical. He plainly knows it to be a generalization because he grants an exception at the front end—a prophet of their own. He’s not a liar because Paul says his testimony is true. In addition, Paul instructs Titus to teach the Cretans in such a way as to make his observation increasingly inaccurate, as they grow to be more and more sound in the faith. This is a perfectly reasonable and pastoral way to think.

Now critical generalizations can be made about the two sexes as well. When the apostles say something like, “Now you men, don’t do this . . .” or “You women, make sure not to . . .” what they are doing is generalizing by implication. When Paul tells men not to be harsh with their wives (Col. 3:19, ESV), he is generalizing in his assumption that men are more likely to be tempted with the sin of harshness.

And when he tells Timothy to place a hedge against the younger widows growing wanton (1 Tim. 5:11), he is generalizing and saying something about what ecclesiastical welfare checks might do to a young widow.

“And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not”

1 Timothy 5:13 (NKJV)

That was a long build-up, wasn’t it? What I am saying is that men and women are very, very different, and that the world is very, very sinful, and so their respective temptations and sins are going to be very different.

Now one of the temptations that men and women both share is the temptation of wanting the other sex to deal with the characteristic sins of their sex, while carefully leaving the characteristic sins of their own sex alone. The woman wants the man to sandpaper off the rough edges of his masculinity, and quietly assumes that the standard of appropriate smoothness is set by her femininity. Now he does need to have that happen, and he actually needs a belt sander in certain places, but the standard for this is Scripture—not the woman’s sensibilities. And the reverse is also true. He wants her to be more open and enthusiastic about sex, let us say, and he quietly assumes that his desires are the normal standard for what that ought to be. But again, the standard is Scripture, and not his desires.

Because we sin downhill, because we don’t examine our assumptions as closely as we ought to, we grant the doctrine of human sinfulness when it comes to the other, and we quietly assume that our basic framework is what the Scriptures commend. But this is frequently not the case.

Scripture knows what the man is like and also knows what the woman is like. Scripture tells us that the relationship of a husband to his wife is hierarchical. Scripture tells the man to provide, protect, and love. Scripture tells the woman to honor, help, and submit. Now because obedience is the great opener of eyes, if a couple resolve to live this way, they are going to grow in their understanding. They are going to grow in their understanding of God, the world, their spouse, and themselves.

This means they are going to learn the value of gender stereotypes. They will be able to do this because obedience to the Word of God is in the process of turning them into sensible people. You know, normals.

Sensible people know that gender stereotypes did not force men and women into certain patterns of behavior. Gender stereotypes are not some straitjacket to which we all must conform, however our free spirit within might protest. No, gender stereotypes are the wisdom of centuries, our reasonable reaction to the obvious differences between men and women, which, if honored and followed, provide the safest path to genuine happiness. A statement like this is easy for a feminist to rage against, and she might claim that my approach has been a cause of untold misery in the world.

But I would then ask why she, the liberated one, is so miserable, and why the conservative, traditional women I know are so happy and contented with their assigned station. And I will not be slow in providing the answer—such conservative women have been left free to be women. They have not been badgered into aspiring to things they never really wanted in the first place.

So then, we have seen that in this relativistic age such sentiments verge on criminality. If that is the case, then the remainder of this paragraph will be something of a crime spree. Men are taller than women, as established. Men are less emotional than women. Women are better at nurturing than men are. Men are more analytic in their thinking and women more intuitive. Men are more task-oriented, and women are more relationship-oriented. Men want to be respected, and women want to be loved. Men want to lead, and women want to submit and follow. Men are more interested in sex than women are. Women are more communicative, and men more taciturn. Women don’t want to follow a weak man, but they do want to follow a strong man. Men have more upper body strength than women do. Men are better at opening pickle jars than women are. You get the drift.

And if you read through a series of statements like that, and find objections, exceptions, and counter-examples crowding into your mind, relax. These are generalizations, after all. I have seen plenty of exceptions myself, and could provide you with loads of examples. Harry is garrulous, and Sally is taciturn. Great. Let the exceptions be exceptions. Your tall sister doesn’t refute the generalization.

I said earlier than your future marital happiness depends on making your peace with this overall reality. The differences between men and women are the foundational creational reality. Gender stereotypes are a cultural response to those creational differences. Sex roles in marriage, in turn, are based on those gender stereotypes. And when you have accepted those traditional sex roles going into marriage, it is like asking her to dance, and you both go out onto the floor in order to waltz together. But without such agreed upon roles, you go out there ready to polka, and she goes out ready to tango. Lots of opportunity for marital misery. In the end you wind up stepping on her feet on purpose, and she winds up kicking your shins on purpose. Not a pretty sight.

Let me finish with this. With all this said, you don’t want to find a girl who is simply submissive to you. That happens sometimes to alpha males, and then they get burned when a stronger alpha shows up. If submissive to a strong male is the only thing going on, you will frequently have a lot of bad consequences. So you don’t want a woman who simply submits to you.

What you are searching for—and this girl you are dating sounds like she might be the one—is a woman who is submissive to God Himself, to His holy Scriptures, and then to the way that God made the world, and then last, as a consequence of all the preceding, to you.

Your uncle,